Sa Pa area is home to eight of the fifty-four Vietnamese minority groups. Mile high town serves as a trading center for the area and trekking base for visitors. This French hill station was rebuilt after Chinese invasion leveled much of the town in 1979. The Chinese were perturbed by Vietnam taking over their client state Cambodia earlier that year and retaliated by invading Vietnam. With the help of long established military support from the Soviets, the Chinese invasion was turned back.
Sa Pa vibrates with the energy of a fast growing town in the shockingly beautiful mountains and valleys of far northern Vietnam. The vertical faces of the mountains are deep green, with the adorned steeply rising tiered rice paddies that climb up the sides of the 10,000-foot high bamboo and tree covered mountaintops.
Even a bright, blue-sky day is softened by gray-white mists obscuring parts of the mountains. In early November one is hot, then chilly as sun and clouds alternately change the temperature. Hiking through the villages and paddies gives the surface flavors of life here. There is electricity, but the paddies are plowed by water buffalo and rice harvested by hand. There are schools, but attendance is dictated by the needs and wishes of individual families.
Mid-day, on our own hike through paddies, hills, and villages, we stopped for a previously arranged lunch in a village home. Two plates of everything – huge generosity. Fish, chicken, spring rolls, pumpkin soup, broccoli, fried cabbage, tofu in tomato sauce, fried breaded eggplant, fruit trays and drinks.
Hmong ladies walked beside us, hoping to eventually sell something. The land was green and open feeling. We watch life happen in the same way it has for hundreds of years. Water powered mortars pounded rice, a water buffalo raided a garden, and planting and harvesting continued. It seems a gentle, simple life with a place for everyone to live and enough food to eat.